UK’s carbon emissions MAPPED: Satellite images expose scale of ‘extensive damage’

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The survey’s satellite images, which were shared exclusively with, reveal about 20 percent of the nation’s peatlands have collapsed since 2016. According to environmental monitoring specialists Terra Motion, this has led to about 50 million tonnes of carbon being released into the atmosphere. The Terra Motion survey mapped an estimated 2.2 million hectares of UK land, tracking peatland collapse in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Since 2016, the wetlands have fallen on average by nearly one inch (2.5cm).

Terra Motion collected and processed thousands of satellite images of the UK collected by Europe’s Sentinel-1 satellite.

The images were run through the company’s APSIS technology, which can take measurements of bare and vegetated land.

Dr Andrew Sowter, Director at Terra Motion, said: “This is the first time that such an extensive survey has been performed across the UK and it shows that significant areas of peatlands are collapsing across the country, a likely sign of extensive damage.

“From the 2.2 million hectares of the UK surveyed, some 19 per cent have collapsed by more than 2.5cm over five years.

“Assuming that this collapse is an indication of active erosion or oxidation, we estimate that, as a whole, the UK peatlands surveyed were emitting around 10 million tonnes of carbon (CO2 equivalent) per year during 2016 to 2021.”

According to Dr Sowter, a commitment from the Government to help restore the peatlands would help the UK reach its net zero emissions target.

At present, the Government has vowed to slash greenhouse emissions by 2050, and reduce emissions by 78 percent by 2035.

The expert estimates the potential economic windfall of investing in peatland restoration could be worth more than £500million per year.

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This could be achieved with considerable support from private equity and by companies looking to offset their carbon footprints.

Companies could invest money in landowners looking to restore their land and, in return, be rewarded with so-called “carbon credits”.

Carbon credits are generated by projects that help to restore and clean up the environment and can be purchased by companies that otherwise may have a negative impact on the climate.

The UK’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) serves this purpose and replaced the European Union’s ETS after Brexit.

The carbon market opened in May this year, and kick-started trading at £50.

However, some pundits predict the market has the potential to grow in the coming years, especially if the UK is to meet its net zero target.

Dr Sowter said: “Using the emission figures from the Terra Motion survey and an approximate current commercial value of carbon of around £50 per tonne CO2e, we estimate that the economic potential of UK peatland restoration could be worth over £500million per year.

“Using an estimate of £1,000 per hectare for total restoration costs, we conclude that with an appropriate carbon offsetting scheme, any actual costs of a restoration project could be easily recovered in the first few years of operation, making investing in peatlands restoration a highly lucrative proposition.

“Peatland restoration is a nature-based solution which brings with it other co-benefits such as improved biodiversity and water quality, as well as the promise of increasing job opportunities in rural areas, which also have significant economic benefits to landowners and local communities.”

Dianna Kopansky Programme Management Officer and Global Peatlands Initiative Coordinator at United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said: “Linking up to raise awareness of the potential of healthy peatlands for climate action, nature protection and our overall well-being is vital.

“The cutting-edge work carried out by Terra Motion clearly shows that UK peatlands are rapidly degrading and that their restoration makes economic and climate sense.

“Sharing and learning from novel techniques shows that together we can highlight the importance and opportunity of peatlands restoration to help us address the climate and nature emergency.”

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